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Could more college captains be on the Patriots’ radar in this year’s draft?

03.09.11 at 2:18 pm ET
By

Akeem Ayers was a junior captain at UCLA. (AP)

In last year’s draft, five of the 12 picks the Patriots made were players were captains in college: Zoltan Mesko, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes, Taylor Price, and Devin McCourty. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said they didn’t necessarily plan it that way — it was more of a happy coincidence.

“We didn’t go into the draft and say we just want to draft guys who were captains of their team,” Belichick said after the 2010 draft was complete. “But players that are good players, but also have traits such as leadership, work ethic, good communications skills, end up being players who are elected leaders of their team — captains. A lot of times those follow each other.”

Those young players helped shape the new direction of the New England locker room in 2010. And while the state of leadership in the New England locker room isn’t as tenuous as it was at this time last year, the Patriots are always mindful of a players’ resume, and for someone to be named a college captain speaks to their character.

So would they go after captains again this April? Two players who have been linked to the Patriots as possible early picks in this year’s draft — UCLA’s Akeem Ayers and Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward — were captains on their teams last season, with Ayers netting the honors as a junior. Ayers said it was a “point of pride” for him to become a team captain as a junior in 2010, and said he took the job seriously.

“We had a pretty young team, but at the same time, it just showed how my teammates looked up to me,” he said of last year’s UCLA team. “It made me want to work harder and be a better player for my teammates. I know that if I play well and do the right things it will make people around me better. I just took a lot of pride in that, being a captain as a junior.

“I started off as more of a lead-by-example player, because I believe that no one is going to follow someone who is not doing the right thing,” Ayers continued, “Running your sprints hard, being on time, hitting the weight room hard, younger guys — freshmen, sophomores — see you doing that, it’ll make it that much easier for them to want to follow my lead and try and tell them to do something. So it’s lead by example, and then, later on, when you become that vocal leader, guys will just follow your lead.”

As for Heyward, it was important for him to be named a captain as well, and sounded like he preferred to be more of a vocal leader — fellow Buckeye Brian Rolle described him as a “screamer” when it came to practice last year at Ohio State. But Heyward also mixes in some of Ayers’ lead-by-example approach as well.

“I’m hoping I have a little bit of pressure behind me because I want to perform well,” Heyward said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. If guys are expecting a lot out of me, so be it, because I’m a guy that’s going to produce and give it all I got.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Akeem Ayers, Bill Belichick, Brandon Spikes
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